commute · cycling · fitness

Sam is ringing her bell, maybe?

New pink bell on Sam’s bike

Things to know about me: I am a rule following kind of person. It’s hardwired. It’s what I do.

But I confess that until today, I didn’t have a bell on my commuting bike.

I mean, I had one, years ago, but it broke, and I never replaced it, mostly because I only had it to comply with the law. I rarely, if ever, used it.

Why not? Well, it startled people. And I was finding that either people have headsets on, in which case it doesn’t matter what noise I make, or they seemed less startled, and more appreciative of a cheery “Good morning.”

To be clear, our gravel paths along the river and through the Arboretum are wide and not at all crowded so my bike commute is pretty stress free. So far even the off leash dogs have been well behaved and my only near collision was with turtles the other morning.

Here’s some scenes from my long commute:

Sam’s ride to work

But last week, as I was cycling through the Aboretum on my long way to work, I passed an elderly man with a small dog and my “hello, good morning” wasn’t enough. “Don’t you have a bell on that thing you could ring?” he yelled back.

The laneway we were on was as wide as a regular road and I had passed all the way over to the right. Still, I’d startled him. He expressed a bell preference. It is the law that, all bikes have a working bell or horn so that you can announce your approach.

So now I have a bell.

The pink bell clashes. I think it was a stocking stuffer meant for the Brompton which also doesn’t have a bell. Will remedy that too, get a new one for the commuting bike and put the pink one on the Brompton.

In the meantime, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, which do you prefer, bell or no bell? “Good morning, hello,” or “bring bring”?

U can ring my be-e-e-l, ring y bell

This looks like a good place to star my research: Put a Bell on Your Fast Bike Already.

advice · commute · covid19 · ergonomics · fitness · habits · planning · self care

Habits to Offset Being an End-of-Day Grump After Back-to-Work Commuting

Shortly after coming home from my work commute the other day, I found that my partner (and cat) could barely stand to be around me. I was being a total grump—tired and irritable. Why?

I had spent the last two days commuting by car (an hour each way, plus more travel between sites), then sitting for hours at desks that were not my own. Being vehicle- and desk-bound used to be my work-a-day norm. But, after only a few days back at work, and despite all the travel, I felt unusually sedentary and yuck.

A woman hunched over her laptop while seated at a desk
A woman hunched over her laptop at a desk. Posture posture posture!

I have worked from home during most of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means I’ve had the luxury of walking or exercising before or after work (most days!), and taking short stretch breaks anytime I’ve needed to in a private and comfortable space of my own. More control over how, where, and how much I sit.

You may be thinking—with all this privilege, 5 hours in the car over 2 days is not, relatively speaking, a big deal. Boo hoo, Elan. (At first I thought that too.)

Yet, because I am trying to be mindful and notice things more, I realized maybe I hadn’t prepared myself sufficiently for what back to work would feel like for my body.

Reminders are for people who need reminding. Here is a brief list of reminders for how I might show up more prepared for my return-to-work days a (and be less of a grump around those I love afterwards).

  • Leave 15 minutes earlier than I need to and park at the far end of the parking lot to have time to walk and stretch before sitting in the office.
  • Bring more water and veggie snacks than I think I will need in order to stay hydrated (and avoid the snack machine).
  • Schedule in-person meetings to end 10 minutes before the hour, and use that time to get up and move around, perhaps reacquainting myself with the buildings and their outdoor spaces.
  • Assess the ergonomics of my seated position in my car and in my hoteling office work spaces—try to notice my posture and pack what I need to adjust myself.
  • Make time to stretch before getting back into my car near the end of the day.
Cats and trucks lined up on a highway
That’s me, third car on the right.

What else could help me to manage feelings sedentary and grumpy during return to work? Please share your ideas in comments below!

commute · cycling · fitness

Big hills as barriers to bike commuting: Creative solutions

Many years ago I was chatting with an Old South neighbour who also worked at Western University in London, Ontario and who aspired to commute by bike. We agreed that the bike path to campus along the river was was beautiful and safe and that many factors (no stressful traffic, no expensive parking, time in nature before and after work, environmental reasons, and daily exercise) made biking the obviously best choice.

But, she said, what about the big hill out of the park up to the bridge?

What about it?

I confess though it’s short I was annoyed by the hill out of the park because at the time I was riding a fixed gear bike. I had to take a run at it and sometimes there were people walking on the path and slowing down on the fixie was problematic. But even on the fixie it wouldn’t stop me commuting by bike.

The neighbour was worried she’d need to walk the bike up the hill. I don’t think it would be necessary given that her bike had gears but even so, it’s a pretty short hill to walk up if you have to. But the thing is she was embarrassed by the idea of walking her bike up the hill and that alone was possibly enough to keep her from riding. She felt she wasn’t in good enough shape to ride to work if she couldn’t make it up the hill.

Me, I think it’s okay to walk your bike up the occasional hill. See Sam changes her thinking on walking her bike up hills.

I also think most casual cyclists don’t learn to use their gears. I see people struggling and have to resist yelling, “Shift!” at them.

The biggest factor though isn’t either of these things. It’s that hills intimidate us. I loved Julia’s recent post about hills.

The same is true for commuting to the University of Guelph from the Northside of the city. People comment all the time that they’re impressed I ride up the Gordon Street hill. I don’t quite say “what hill?” but it’s true it’s not much of a hill. I slow down for it but even my Brompton easily makes it up Gordon. It’s annoying but as hills go, it’s not much of a hill.

Here’s the Gordon Street hill:

So my standard view on hills and bike commuting is a)use your gears, and b)if you run out of gears, it’s ok to walk your bike.

I guess my view about hills and urban commuting changed a bit when I lived in Dunedin, NZ for a term while on sabbatical visiting The University of Otago. There the hills were steep enough that some routes just didn’t make sense by bike. I lived in an area that people referred to as the city rise. That meant I had a long set of steps up to my house from the street below and my bike commute would have been a very fast downhill to work and likely walking the bike uphill for at least part of the way home. Needless to say, I walked.

Steps to our house, groceries down below
— in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Getting around town in Dunedin it was never enough to know how far away anything was. Distance wasn’t the most important measurement. I once set out on my road bike to get to the velodrome in Mosgiel–just 20 km away. I gave myself an hour (normally fine on the road bike) neglecting to see that something aptly called Three Mile Hill was between me and there. I was late, obviously, and too tired to do much riding when I got there. And after that I drove like others riding at the velodrome, which felt all wrong to me.

Other than gearing, or e-assist, what would help make cycling more accessible in really hilly cities?

Cork is considering a lift like the one in Trondheim

See here, ‘Bicycle lift’ proposed to help cyclists climb steep 14% street.

Here is the story of the lift named Trampe,

What’s your opinion about hills and bike commuting?

commute · cycling · fitness

My long way to work

A turtle, a wet cyclist, and a tree fallen across the bike trail

My normal bike commute here in Guelph is a little too short. It’s just a couple of kilometers. I’d walk it except I can’t because of my knees.

I’ve also been missing my London commute along the river on the bike path.

Guelph has a river and a river side bike trail but it’s not the most direct route to work. This past week I put all these facts together and starting riding the long way to work. Up the riverside bike path, and then down through the Arboretum to my office. It’s about 5.5 km. That’s still shorter than my 7 km London commute but it’s enough to make it feel worthwhile getting on the bike.

Today I saw a turtle and a giant tree that fell on the path. That’s much more interesting than my neighbourhood route.

There’s also a very pretty wooden, covered bridge on my route.

Sam, the bridge, and her bike

It was a good idea anyway. It’s a much nicer ride. But it’s part of getting ready to ride the Friends for Life Bike Rally in August. I’ve always thought that the hardest part of the rally isn’t the distance you ride each day, it’s getting up and doing it again. So daily riding is definitely part of my training plan.

I’m increasingly nervous about getting enough riding time in. I don’t want to struggle with both knee pain and fitness. Every weekend from here on in, rain or no rain, I’m going to be training.

I’m also struggling this year with fundraising. You can sponsor me here. Please, any amount helps. I’m about a third of the way to my goal.

Sam’s strava report on her way to work
commute · cycling · feminism · fitness

#BikeIsBest – We Can, You Can

From the Bike is Best campaign, ‘There has never been a better time to ride a bike. In so many ways. Cruise past the congested roads, free yourself of crowded public transport, and contribute to a greener planet that gives you cleaner air.

Two-thirds of all journeys are less than five miles. You don’t need to ride far or fast to make a difference. Half an hour of cycling is enough to improve your health, reduce your risk of illness, ease your stress levels and benefit your mental well-being.

Switching to cycling for short journeys means skipping queues and enjoying your own personal space. Bike is best for you, your community and the environment.”

I love the campaign’s emphasis on everyday riding, short distances, and everyday people. It’s good for health and for the environment, as well as mood. Bike rides make me happy and I hope they do for you too.

commute · cycling · fitness

11 years ago… (trigger warning for scary photos)

So I have two patterns of winter riding.

Some years I ride through. Whee!

Other years I stop at some point, take a break (often for the months of January and February) and start again in early spring. The latter always seems harder. It feels cold. It’s a big deal to get going again. It’s always March.

This year, I took time off in the worst of the winter because of the pandemic. In January we had another work from home thing and there was no need to commute by bike to my dining room table.

I rode my bike to work for the time in 2022 on Friday, March 18th. The roads were clear enough that I didn’t even need my adventure road/gravel bike. I went straight to the Brompton.

Three shots of Sam dressed in a pink jacket, silver scarf, and pink sparkly helmet riding her pink Brompton.

My route to work is relatively short and easy. It’s a noodle through my neighbourhood and then I cross one busy street and then I’m on campus, riding past the horses and cows.

But I’m reminded, getting back on my bike, of the safety issues involved in bike commuting because of what happened on my first March bike commute, 11 years ago. I’ve had two bike accidents that have landed me in hospital but this is the first and only one that involved a car.

See Thoughts on my first spring bike commute and why I take the lane for more about that fateful March morning and how it made me a safer, and more assertive, bike commuter.

Here’s the Facebook memories of the day that also remind me about it.

In the scheme of things, it wasn’t a serious accident. I broke no bones, required no stitches, and didn’t even get a concussion. (Thank you helmet!) I was picked up by an ambulance, strapped to a board, and spent the day in hospital getting all of me checked out.

That accident has ever since made getting back on the bike in March feel like a big deal, a momentous decision to ride. I’m aware that I was lucky.

Sarah also shared this TikTok with me about road safety and giving cyclists enough room on road.

Close passing is bad driving and it’s illegal, https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMLaWHCmr/?k=1

After a week or so, it won’t feel like a big deal at all. I know that. But for right now, I’m feeling the weight of my choice to commute on two wheels.

I’m happy to be back on my bike but I’m nervous happy, if you know what I mean.

Update: Today’s memories from Facebook tell more of the story.

commute · cycling · fitness · holidays

Welcome to Fool’s Spring!

It’s March! Here in this part of Canada, southern Ontario, that means it’s Fool’s Spring. A friend pointed out that this is missing a category. Just before Real Spring, it should say The Pollening. That’s the season in which, each year, I wonder why I am on the verge of tears all the time and then only after I’ve found things to actually be sad about, realize it’s spring allergies.

Yesterday it was 14 degrees and sunny. Today it’s below freezing, just and there’s freezing rain outside. But there are birds chirping in the morning, even today. And the roads are gradually clearing of snow and ice.

This year I didn’t ride through the winter–mostly because we were under a ‘work from home’ order for pandemic reasons during the most challenging time–and I’m looking at getting my adventure road bike geared up for commuting again. (I’ll take the Brompton out once the roads are completely clear of grit.)

In years past I started riding again in March. See here and here.

So this week I’ll get the commuting bike out, swap the tires, and drop the good road bike off to the bike shop for a tune up. In a few weeks we’re headed south to Kentucky to meet Jeff on the boat at Land Between the Lakes recreation area and maybe do some gravel riding. Route suggestions welcome!

And after that I hope to be back regularly riding outside here in Guelph.

Calvin and Hobbes
commute · cycling

Bettina’s quick bike commute check-in

First things first, if you celebrate: merry merry! But if you need a quick respite from the festivities, I’m going to talk about something decidedly un-festive: bike commuting.

Last time I wrote (a while ago) my e-bike had just arrived. Now we already have a few commutes under our belt so I quickly wanted to check in. It’s been going reasonably well. I say “reasonably” because I didn’t get as many commutes in as I’d hoped so far.

Picture of tiny human inspecting our commuting set up: a black gravel e-bike and a blue and black trailer. He approves.

The main obstacle, on which many other things hinge, is that I don’t currently work in my usual office. Our building is being renovated and we’re a few kilometres down the road at an interim location. So my routine is: put kid in trailer, zoom up the hill, get kid out and deliver him to daycare, unhook trailer and lock it at the campus bike storage, zoom to work. And back in the afternoon. It’s a bit of a schlep. It’d be so much easier if once I was at daycare, I wouldn’t have to bike another 3k. It’s not far, but it takes time and… logistics.

Then there’s the weather. I’m a fair weather cyclist as is, but we don’t have showers at our interim offices and I can’t show up soaked because I’d be freezing and feeling like a wet mouse for the rest of the day. So when it’s raining, or threatening to rain, we don’t bike.

And there’s time. It’s been stressful at work and with daycare hours, I have to power through. It’s an “every minute counts” kind of situation. I go to work, emerge bleary-eyed from my office at lunchtime to grab a sandwich and munch it at my desk, and then emerge bleary-eyed again to run off to daycare pickup. The bike commute doesn’t take a lot of extra time, but it adds up.

I know all these things are going to improve once we move back into our building, but right now I’m unimpressed because I’m LOVING my bike commutes and I wish I could do more. Anyway, onwards and upwards. Better times will come!

commute · cycling · fitness · snow · winter

Ready to bike commute year round?

So you bought a bike during the pandemic–Welcome, welcome to the club!

And you’ve been riding for fun and maybe commuting, but it’s starting to get dark and cold and you’re wondering, what next? Do you keep riding? Do you ride year round?

I’m on Team Yes! I have been for a few years now.

And each year I share some advice.

Here’s some from the cycling media:

How to Commute All Year Round

“Just because it’s sub-zero, doesn’t mean you should give up your commute. Commuting can be a great form of motivation during the cold months as you have a goal: get to work on time. It’s a lot easier to convince yourself to ride 40 minutes to your office on a cold day, as opposed to going out for a 40 minute ride.”

Eight Tips to Keep Riding in Cold Weather

“Put on your final layers or gloves when you are walking out of the door. Especially when you are waiting on other people or tinkering with your bike, it’s all too easy to put on all of your warm layers and still spend several minutes inside heating up. Even though you might feel ok, moisture is accumulating on your skin. You likely won’t notice that you are sweating, but you will feel colder during your ride.”

And here’s some from us:

Getting ready for winter cycling!

Getting Ready for Winter Bike to Work Day!

Riding in the cold and the snow: A how-to, complete with bonus fashion tips!

Happy Winter Bike to Work Day! #WinterBikeToWorkDay

Have any questions about winter riding and cold weather bike commuting? Send them our way!

Here’s me winter biking for fun:

Sam on a fat bike

Here’s me dressed for commuting with my usual winter commuting bike:

Sam with her everyday gravel/commuting bike
commute · cycling

From contemplation to action: Bettina’s e-bike is here!

In my last post, I shared that I was contemplating the purchase of an e-bike for my commute with tiny human in the bike trailer. Well, that escalated quickly – I ordered one the next day! I spent a weekend thinking about it and researching, and then a great offer came along that I couldn’t refuse. And now it’s here: my Bergamont E-Grandurance RD Expert (mine is the 2020 model and this link is the 2022 one, but you get the gist). And here’s a picture:

Bettina’s new e-bike leaning attractively against an industrial staircase, black and new and shiny in the sun.

It’s basically a gravel bike with a motor, which I really like. What I like even more is that it comes with all the trappings to make it road safe and comfortable (rack, fenders, lights etc.). It’s marketed as a commuter bike, which is exactly what I need, and it’s sporty, which is exactly what I want.

So far, I’ve tried it on an even surface and using the motor (which has three levels of support) is like someone pushing you along. Zooooom, swoooosh!

The reason I haven’t used it for its actual purpose yet is that we’re currently lacking the correct through-axle adapter to attach the bike trailer. It took me longer to research the bloody adapter than it took me to find a bike I liked, and in the end it turns out I have to have it shipped to Europe from the US *facepalm*. Apparently, through-axles are a lot less standardised than would be good for them. I mean, we have two adapters already in the house and neither one fits, and the trailer’s manufacturer doesn’t have one that fits my through-axle. It took us several e-mail exchanges with their customer support to work that out. In the end, the good folks at the Robert Axle Project came through for me and set me up with the right thing (if you ever need a through-axle adapter, these are your people – stellar customer service and they really do seem to have everything!). Let’s hope it doesn’t get held up in some global supply chain debacle.

So far, even though it’s mostly been sitting in our basement, I’m thrilled with my new toy. Will report back on how it goes with the trailer-pulling and commuting!